Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"This water is so SALTY. and it smells like artichokes!"

So i've been living at the provincial house, getting really good at operating all our oddly finicky remote controls, baking fancy breads, prepping my new site. I was really nervous about moving out of my old site, but it turned out to be ok. The clinic was supposed to schedule a meeting, but they didn't. Instead we showed up during ante-natal day and had the meeting with all the pregnant women in my catchment area, the midwives, and the few lazy men hanging around. (if you ever want to disseminate information in african villages, the speediest and most reliable way is through the women.) We told them why i was moving and all the women agreed with the choice and simply could not believe that this was happening to me. They were hopeful that maybe now the community would mobilize to put an end to the theft problem. I wish them the best of luck with that. Then it was like christmas when i was clearing out all my belonging and i left tons of containers, bottles, cosmos (that should be a bit of a shock to the system), and boxes. Then everyone went inside my empty house because they had never been allowed inside, although how they expected it to be different from every other falling-down mud house in the region is beyond me.

The next day we went to my new village to see the progress on my house and to have a community meeting. The house was done. The latrine was done. Everything, done. We couldn't believe it; that kind of speed and enthusiasm in preparing for a volunteer is almost unheard of.
The set-up of my new house will be really different, but the location is nice, and the community seems really ready, so I'm looking forward to that. I'll also have cell phone reception, which is amazing.

Then I went to Zanzibar for the Sauti za Busara Music Festival! We took a bus (my first time taking a bus, in my whole year in country) to a place called Kapiri (basically a nothing of a town, a transit intersection). The train station was proper with stairs and a huge ceiling and everything. We got our tickets, made it onto our first class car (4 bunks, sheets, blankets, 1 roll of complimentary toilet paper) armed with 8 liters of water, 200 cookies and some bread and cheese. Our friends joined us along the route. 48 hours later we arrived at Dar es Salaam after passing through cold weather, hot weather, a game park and pretty pretty greenness everywhere. Dar was kind of a mess, with no one quite sure how we were going to arrive in Zanzibar. A bunch of people chartered a plane (it sounds pretty fancy. i'm sure it wasn't.). We stayed at a hotel that we were driven to by a taxi driver. It was very nice, but the neighborhood was not and we weren't allowed to leave for dinner. Nevertheless, it had air conditioning so we were content.

The next morning we walked to a ferry asking directions along the way ("I recommend you only ask directions from students and old people." - man on street). We took the fast ferry - 1.5 hours - to Stonetown. It's gorgeous! Tons of old, kind of falling down, cement structures with tiny, winding streets and clotheslines hanging everywhere. It's right on the bay and there's a fabulous blend of arab and african architecture. We showed up at our hotel (where reservations had been checked multiple times) and were informed in a very condescending way that we didn't have a room. After much "Don't worry, sweetie"s we were led to a vehicle that was going to take us to a different hotel of same price and quality. HA! we drove around for 2 hours trying to find a vacancy and wound up all sharing 1 bed on a discount provided by a very kind man way out of town. needless to say, I was pissed. but i got over it, we went to the music fest, ate seafood, and danced. It was lovely. Then the next day we were able to move to a place in town, we walked around the fish, spice and fruit market, which was fantastic and then music fested again. We even had mojitos and margaritas that night (that's a pretty major achievement).
Sunday had us on a tour of a Spice plantation where we tasted lots of exotic fruits and spices, learned about their production and had a fun time. I ate a pepper tree and it was awesome. After that we saw a cave that was used to hide slaves after slavery had been made illegal on the island. and we went to the beach. and then we music fested again. There were all kinds of music from jazz to hip hop, bellydance and crazy rhythmic sufis spinning. It was good fun.

The next day we bummed around stonetown and shopped. There are tons of scarves and fruits and painting, and bad african crap. I got a bunch of henna (i am completely obsessed). i also observed the local fashions and daily routines. Women there are frequently covered from head to toe in loose conservative scarves. But this isn't Saudi Arabia people, the scarves are frequently leopard print and covered in sequins. It's an awesome mix of flashy and conservative. We ate dinner at a "traditional" swahili restaurant and had wonderful vegetables, coconut sauces and fish while sitting on cushions. So much of the food is covered in great spices and flavors like cumin, tamarind, coconut, masalas, etc. Then we smoked some hookah and played travel scrabble at a really fancy hotel balcony.

After that we headed up north to the beach. The water was so turquoise and wonderful and warm. There are signs saying "please respect the local culture" and you are supposed to cover up if and when you go into the village. But on the oasis of the beach you can just walk around in a bikini to your heart's content. So needless to say, i never went into the village and let my thighs and tummy see some sun (and proceed to get burnt). Our friends were also at the beach so we hung out with them, and then that night there was a big beach party to celebrate the end of the festival on a nearby beach, but i didn't go due to my prolonged medical issues, so I was a bum and had fish curry with another party-pooper i know.

There are lots of guys who just hang around on the beach trying to convince you to scuba dive and walking on their hands showing off. It's a very strange environment, but we just embraced it. and i drank smoothies - amazing. After 2 nights at the beach it was time to head back to stonetown and await our overnight ferry. The ferry was disgusting and hot and crowded and uncomfortable. It only actually takes 4 hours to get to Dar, but due to curfews you have to get on at 8, sit at the dock until 2 and then depart for Dar. We all survived, just barely and totally sleep deprived and crabby and proceeded to the train station. Then we waited at the train station for about 7 hours in the first class lounge (which was really the white kid lounge for the first 5 or so hours, until the rich locals showed up and were appalled at american loudness and unconcern for the space and comfort of others). Then we got on the train again, there was some confusion as to who was meant to be sitting where, and then we were off again (2nd class this time and devoid of a few of the luxuries of our first trip). When we went through the game park this time it was approaching dusk and we were able to see tons of giraffes, kudu, impala, wildebeest, zebras and elephants. And the kids on the other side of the train from me were lucky enough to see 3 lions chase down a wildebeest. Apparently it was amazing. That night the emergency brake was pulled and we were stopped for hours. We later learned it was because the engine had detached from the train and kept going and then we had to wait for it to back up and reconnect with us. Then later there were more stops for other brake and assorted issues. Needless to say we were 10 hours behind schedule. But I made it back to Lusaka and I am just waiting around with the medical staff trying to improve myself before i move to the new village.

Other notes: 1.) apparently to most africans I strongly resemble Mariah Carey. While studying abroad I was told by many people in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia that I looked like her. It's happened once or twice here in Zambia and then in Zanzibar it happened a lot - to the extent that one woman thought i WAS her and was afraid to ask me about it. then on the train, the immigration man for Tanzania, after harassing me in my sleepy state, said "you look a lot like Mariah Carey." My response: "I know." and I proceeded to pass out. 2.) it's pretty obvious that most of the people travelling in zanzibar aren't american. They are really tan and chic and quiet. We were considerably fatter, tattier and louder. 3.) People were considerably less pushy and annoying. It was hard for a lot of us to lose the bitchy edge we have gained here in Zambia.

no book list; i forgot my journal.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


I spent xmas in malawi. it was beautiful. It seemed a lot more developed. It's definately a lot more crowded than here. The fields are much smaller, there arent as many farm animals, and they plant different things. They farm a lot of tobacco and cassava. The people have crazier names- we met Dude, Christmas, Happy Coconut, Special, etc. We spent the first half of that vacation at the northern part of the lake. It was so beautiful with all the hills, rice paddies, banana trees on the edges of cliffs. We went mango fishing from our floaties. The food was wonderful, the avocados were cheap, but we couldn't ever buy fish to eat! We would just look at the waiters and say "really?! But there's a fish market right outside the door!" So after a few days in the north we went to the south. We had awful transport and when we got there we just ended up really missing the north, but then we got used to it and enjoyed ourselves. I think one of the major things we noticed in the north was that the villages and the hostels were more integrated. It was a lot more socially and environmentally conscious, with compost toilets, local people employed for all the domestic tasks. In the South the villages and the hostels seemed really separate and there were a lot more children saying "hello, give me money." So that was a bit annoying. But we got to eat fish - and it was so good! And we kayaked to a deserted beach, watched some monkeys, went skinny dipping, had a xmas day hostel bar crawl. We watched santa come deliver gifts from a boat to wealthy french children at stop number 1. We got squirted with a water gun. Overall, great trip.

So then i came back to my village for new years eve (poor planning on my part), and found more things stolen. My neighbors told me it was a rat - a really strong, determined, genetically mutated rat. Basically I am done. Way too stressed out over it, sick of it, unable to work, gotta get out. So, that's what's going on with me. Gonna take a break while a new house and new village are found for me. It's gonna be awhile. And it's gonna be an adventure.

Books (not many since i've been out of the village): Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen; The Tattoo Artist - Jill Ciment; The Golden Gate - Vikram Seth (it's all in prose!); In Beautiful Disguises - Rajeev Balasubramanyam; Blue Water - A. Manette Ansay; The Reading Group - Elizabeth Noble

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blogging is easier in Lusaka

So I'm in Lusaka again, more on that later.

I've done a lot since last time, primarily socializing and being massively frustrated with my village. I went to a place called Luangwa Boma with Liz. We had a difficult time getting there, involving lots of lying to hitches, a 5 hour ride in a canter truck, standing in the 50 degree celcius sun and nearly collapsing from heat stroke, and breaking down twice. It was heinous. So when we arrived we decided that we didn't want to stay at the crappy, cheap government guesthouse where we would have to specially request a bucket bath, instead we stayed at the bwana (fancy) place. It had air conditioning!!! Then we decided to leave the next day because it was hot and boring. On our way home from there we stopped in petauke to meet a bunch of friends and watch the US elections. We made cheeseburgers and apple pie and tried to stay up all night. We saw the important parts though! People here are so excited about Obama. They all say "now an African is in charge of America!" except they forget that Obama is actually American. Then they all assume that something bad will happen, and they can't believe that I, a white person, voted for him. It's good talk about and clue them in, but also really frustrating the view that people have of Americans. We are really cultural ambassadors for America, sometimes it seems like the development work is secondary.

Speaking of work, I haven't been doing much. Although my bosses would say that everything I do is work and the more quantifiable things will come with time. This is all true, but it's frustrating to consider jogging through fields the most productive work i did in a day. I've been having a lot of theft problems and frustration with my villagers, and a lack of trust. I'm also frustrated with my clinic staff because they are fairly lazy and ignorant and don't include me in what's going on. The school is on break, so I haven't been able to work there, but I have some plans for January so I'll let y'all know what happens with that.

I also went into chipata for our provincial meeting. I love provincial meetings - and i might be the only person - but I love the camaraderie and the group dinners and the opportunity to watch movies, play games, talk about life, dress up in costumes, and just in general relax - i don't even mind the meetings themselves.

When I came back the rain had taken down my whole fence, destroyed my garden and lightning hit my neighbor's house. We have thunder and lightning everyday. I think i like the fence being down though, i'm not so isolated anymore, it's easier for me to greet people, and I think it might help with the theft. People can see what I'm doing now, for better or for worse, but I'm gonna try to live without any semblance of privacy for a little while.

So about 2 days after getting back I started to feel exhausted and faint and well, it hasn't stopped. I came down to Lusaka a few days ago, i'm still here. I rode down with a member of parliament who was hilarious. He was driving because his security guards don't know how to drive. He was eating a lot of chicken and dancing the rhumba like he just couldn't help himself once the music came on. Then he would suddenly start giving a speech, although I was barely listening, and I don't think he cared whether he had an audience or not. Anyways, it was a pretty good ride. So yeah, I'm still chillin in Lusaka. Hopefully not for too much longer. Also, we went shopping at the designer stores at the mall (I can't believe you can get bcbg here!!!). I wanted to buy a gold lame strapless mini dress, but I couldn't quite justify it, given my lifestyle and all. But man, I miss shopping. I miss a lot of things. I miss America. But Lusaka is always interesting, full of weird contrasts between the projects and the fancy, rich muzungus (white people, who we are still always surprised to see, which is ridiculous because there are quite a few). I also learned that the price of charcoal is 10 times higher here than in my village. But almost everything is 10 times higher.

I had broccoli the other day. whoa. and i might have salad for dinner. that's major. and I saw high school musical 3 and enjoyed myself way too much. same with the new bond movie. you're right mom, he's a babe.

books: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - JK Rowling; The Sixteen Pleasures - Robert Hellenga; Corelli's Mandolin - Louis de Bernieres; Every Light in the House Burnin - Andrea Levy; The Covenant - James Michener; Under the Rose - Diana Peterfreund; The Sunday Philosphy Club - Alexander McCall Smith; The Book Thief - Markus Zusak; The Right Attitude to Rain - Alexander McCall Smith; Barefoot - Elin Hilderbrand; The Careful Use of Compliments - Alexander McCall Smith; An Equal Music - Vikram Seth; Girl With a Pearl Earring - Tracy Chevalier; State of Fear - Michael Crichton; The Andromeda Strain - Michael Crichton

Friday, October 24, 2008

it's too hot to live in a village

so i'm in chipata. i've been here all week, partially because I'm lazy, partially because the allure of ice cubes is so great. it's really, really hot. Today is independence day. we are celebrating by watching prison break and baking cookies and pizza.

I'm feeling a little disillusioned with village life, probably because I've been away from it for 2 weeks and the distance makes me feel nostalgic for the developed world and also feel like "what the hell am I actually doing in the village anyways?" Hopefully I can get some things done come November, and get my garden ready for the rains, and have a couple meetings with health committees to start setting up some facilitation trainings. But mostly i'm feeling a little annoyed with people. My clinic staff is pissing me off, people keep hitting on me and it's annoying. The lack of respect that educated people here pay to villagers is incredibly frustrating. And my clinic staff thinks people aren't having sex and thus spreading HIV because they are too busy watching traditional dance, which is crap. The problems just feel daunting because they are so vast and the harvest/ weather schedule really dictates everything we do so you really have to work around/ within that. People also are very stuck in their ways, they have a very hard time trying to think creatively about problem solving. And there is no planning, or rationing of resources. The few people who do these things are doing well for themselves but the cycle of life here is just set in stone. Right now our water pump is running low, so the clinic ties it up all day so that the villagers won't use it, but I get to use it because i'm the white woman. Frustrating.

We always tend to feel guilty when we are out of the village, but the reality of this job is that we are out of the village almost 50% of the time between cultural days, vacation, required trainings and meetings, provincial house time, medical trips, and visiting friends. I'm starting to utilize these breaks from the village more too for my mental sanity. Once the rains come we can't work very much because all the farmers (so.... everyone) is really busy, so we tend to go on vacations. Otherwise we are just sitting at home watching the water come through our grass roof.

One of my neighbors just had a baby. It's her 5th boy and it was born a month premature. It's so cute and tiny. When the babies are really tiny their skin is a lot lighter so everyone says "ah, it's brown like kerry!" They might have me name this one. When you name a baby you are responsible for buying it lots of presents - a lot of volunteers end up naming a lot of babies.

books: Breaking Dawn - Stephenie Meyer, A Spot of Bother - Mark Haddon, Atonement - Ian McEwan, Faking It - Jennifer Crusie, When You Are Engulfed In Flames - David Sedaris, Adventure Divas - Holly Morris, Jesus Land - Julia Scheeres.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Learning My Lesson

So I'm in Lusaka. I was painting my house with my neighbor, and we make the paint out of ash or mud or charcoal. We pounded the charcoal, mixed it with water, boiled it and then I started splattering the kitchen and latrine with paint jackson pollock-style, and i got a big piece of charcoal lodged in my eye. 24 hours later the eye doctor in Lusaka was digging it out with a needle. Having needles near your eyeball is terrifying. But at least I have my vision back and I've gotten to spend some time in Lusaka not actually sick. So I saw a movie, explored public transport, i've been eating wondrous foods like bacon, coke light, feta cheese, pizza. These are things you take for granted in America. In fact yesterday I spent more than 20 minutes in the sauce/dressings aisle of Spar (grocery store). I was just dreaming about the balsamic vinegar, the thai red curry, the multitude of chutneys. I bought some mustard and it was a splurge on my budget.

But life back in the village has been good - we finally got girls club started and i'm coming up with some more ideas for programming at the school. I've been working a lot on my house - we put in cement on the floors, and I've been making artwork for the walls. I've mostly stopped being a creative cook because I'm getting lazy, and also it's too hot to care. But I still like to spice things up every once in awhile.

Lusaka is such a crazy place. There's such a huge disparity of wealth here. People are either really wealthy or really poor. We were leaving a ritzy bar yesterday and we saw 4 mercedes in a row. We proceeded to find an unlicensed taxi to take us to a 2 for 1 pizza joint. People dress in nice clothes too - heels, glitter, sequins. I tried to pack my clothes without holes in them.

I'll post again next week.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I'm Forgetting How to Use Technology

Sorry it's been so long since I posted, I was too busy watching Prison Break in August when I was last at a computer. That show is seriously addicting! Some people are wondering how I get television and movies. We have a house in our provincial capital where we can stay 3 nights a month. We have a massive movie collection here and we can buy pirated tv shows right here in Chipata! So we like to come for a few days, relax, watch movies, cook with an oven, drink refridgerated drinks, sit on a couch.

Since I last wrote... I got a new bicycle, it's shiny and red and I've gotten really pretty decent at riding it. I no longer fall off from my terrible sense of balance every time I have to stop - and I'm feeling pretty powerful and awesome when I go on my bushpath rides. The other day I almost got stormed by some fighting bulls and had to do some pretty creative riding so i didn't get gored! Also one time I hit a piglet. It happens.

I've gotten a lot more comfortable with hitchhiking. On my way to Lusaka for our week-long training in August, my friend and I rode in the front of a pickup with a 65ish white Zambian man who was going to pick up his wife. We had such a great conversation with him about the history of the land and people in Eastern Province and we talked about rendering hippo fat, hunting elephants and battling lions. He told us about his gold mining hobby and his children and playing around in the bush as a little boy. Then we met his wife and we rode the rest of the way into the city with her driver and her nephew, an effeminate goth of the late 1990's style (including glittery claires keychains draped all over his body) who was a contestant on South African Idol. Also in hitching i've had a lot of conversations with city zambians who have no idea how I manage to live in the village. They are always very impressed with us. They can't believe we can manage without running water or electricity or in a mud house.

Speaking of house, we built my kitchen: a separate round mud/grass structure where I can cook during the rains without getting carbon monoxide poisoning by trying to burn charcoal in my house. Also, we are painting my house with mud and ash to make a pretty black, white and red design. I'm going to put cement on the floors soon to try and make a dent on my vast ant problem. And I sleep on a flat, wooden bed now which is wonderful. I built a garden, which was really fun and I've got squash, lettuce, carrots. The lettuce has been soooo good. It's too hot for the squash, so it's all dying and the carrots arent ready yet. Sometimes I feel like i'm just playing house.

So we had a training in Lusaka for a week which was great because I got to see all my friends I hadn't seen since April, and we got to go out to restaurants and take city transport and become more familiar with Lusaka. While we were there the President of Zambia died after suffering a stroke, which was a very sad day for everyone because he was a very popular president. There was a long period of mourning, parades and viewings of the body. Now there is going to be elections in October. It's all really interesting to watch. The schools have stations set up for people who've lost their voter cards and everyone is amazed that I can still vote for the American President from here in Zambia!

On our last night in Lusaka we stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel, which is really really swanky. So obviously we rolled up filthy in a minibus and they offered us champagne flutes of guava juice with beautiful fruit decorations and a green sugar crystal rim. Then we rode in an elevator for the first time in 6 months - it blew our minds. The room had a hairdryer (!!!) and the shower had massager settings. There was a button on the phone that said "instant service" so I pressed it and ordered some wine glasses and we sat in the room all night drinking south african wine we bought at the gas station, eating onion dip and watching the olympics. It was fantastic.

Work-wise I've had a lot going on. I've got a lot of different clubs starting up including home-based care, orphan support, girls life skills and anti-aids. I've been doing some more hilarious hiv info sessions for the teenagers. I'm working on trying to find some more accessible water for one of my villages and we want to try and get a maternity ward built. Everything goes really slowly. The club meetings can be painful because mostly they just want money and/or things from me, and they don't usually know what they want - they just want to start a club because they think they should. Then they ask me for ideas. There's a real lack of creativity and imagination - it's just something most villagers have never really had an opportunity to tap into. People do what they've always done, and trying to branch out ain't easy.

A couple weeks ago I went to a huge cultural ceremony in Katete. I live with the Chewa people, who are based in Eastern Province, Malawi and Mozambique. The Paramount Chief lives here, so at this ceremoney, called Kulamba, all the chiefs from the 3 countries attend, as well as important political leaders, headmen, and ceremonial dancers. There are also representatives of other nearby tribes to pay respects. There are lots of speeches, gift giving ceremonies, dancing, and TONS of drunk people selling shit. It was a madhouse. But interesting.

It's starting to get really hot. I'll keep you posted on how I manage. Also, a reminder that mail is really really awesome, even if it's a note or a postcard or a magazine or a piece of american candy. seriously. I will respond to absolutely everything.

and now for the books (i don't know if you guys think this is interesting, but books are my entertainment and what i'm reading can have a big impact on what i'm thinking): Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert; Jemima J. - Jane Green; The Bean Trees - Barbara Kingsolver; Sickened - Julie Gregory; The Ginger Tree - Oswald Wynd; Secret Society Girl - Diana Peterfreund; Pigs in Heaven - Barbara Kingsolver; How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent - Julia Alvarez; Beloved - Toni Morrison; Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas - Tom Robbins; Killing Yourself to Live - Chuck Klosterman; Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov; My Horizontal Life - Chelsea Handler; Reading Lolita in Tehran - Azar Nafisi; Are You There Vodka? It's Me Chelsea - Chelsea Handler; The Tuesday Erotica Club - Lisa Beth Kovitz; Smashed: the Story of a Drunken Girlhood - Koren Zailckas; I was Told There'd be Cake - Sloane Crosley; Pompeii - Robert Harris; New Moon - Stephenie Meyer; Eclipse - Stephenie Meyer; Snow Flower and the Secret Fan - Lisa See; Waltzing the Cat - Pam Houston; The Law of Similars - Chris Bohjalian; Animal Dreams - Barbara Kingsolver.

Whew, but seriously I work too guys, I'm not just reading.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Let's Talk About Food Baby!

Ok, so I did some work! I haven't just been reading lately and it's pretty exciting. Since last time I've had some interesting transport, some bike problems, visits, and more! I hitched a ride with my bicycle for the first time, which was interesting, but not as bad as i thought, and I stayed with my friend Liz in her village for a few days. It's the opposite of my place, in that she has no fence and is seriously surrounded by people all the time! They all call me Grace in her village, and I made fritters there so now her village bugs her about cooking all the time. Then for the 4th of July she came to visit me, we cooked an read and that's about it. It was great!

Also my tastebuds are no longer as sophisticated as they once were, so all those fancy gourmet chocolates people send me, i can't eat plain - so i put them in pancakes! It's a wonderful diet.

Have you ever noticed that those people mags, us weeklys, etc, are FULL of advertisements for food? Seriously, I think i spend more time looking at the food ads than I do reading about tori spelling. It's a little sad.

I had a program at a basic school. It was excellent! I went one day for the girls grades 8-9 (ages 14-18~) and a female teacher helped me with translations. I did about 15 minutes of HIV basics and then they asked questions about sex and relationships for 2 hours. Lots of questions that seem inappropriate, and made me blush for sure! But, because there isn't really a way for them to ask all those questions within their culture, it's great that they can ask me, because in a lot of ways I exist outside the culture. Then I came back the next day for the boys, which I was a lot more nervous about - but they STORMED the classroom they were so excited. I was there more than 2 hours answering all their questions, and had so much fun. After I left, 1 boy had a camera so they all wanted to pose for pictures with me. As I was biking home, it was dusk, I was going downhill past cows and goats and masked traditional dancers beating drums, and I was just on SUCH a high. Then i sat on my porch, had a glass of wine, and took a bucket bath, and thought, "this is my life." it was great. Then a couple days later my cell phone got stolen. fantastic.

Books I've read since last time: Clan of the Cave Bear - Jean Auel, The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger, The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate - Nancy Mitford, The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini, Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen, The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver, Shoe Addicts Anonymous - Beth Harbison, Getting Stoned With Savages - J. Maarten Troost, Empire Falls - Richard Russo, The Joy Luck CLub - Amy Tan, Twilight - Stephenie Meyer, About a Boy - Nick Hornby

Sunday, June 8, 2008


I'm in Chipata again, for our provincial meeting. Which consisted of a meeting, movies, and a carnival. The party was, shall we say, ridiculous. But that was great - we all know i love a good theme party. Also I feel rejuvenated from being around all the volunteers. I got to hear everyone's good stories, bad stories, complaints, frustrations, and it's nice to talk about all that stuff. Although I'm sick, so I haven't been at top-form, but things are still nice right now.

I'm not entirely sure what to write about this time. things in the village have been mostly the same. I've been attempting some "trail running" on days when I feel ok. I don't like running on the "road" because there are so many people, and running is just not something that happens here. So I have found some paths through the fields. Usually when I'm out people wave or yell at me, and the women usually laugh. The crazy white girl running, in pants, and actual shoes, in the heat of the afternoon, is a pretty crazy sight. Sometimes kids follow me, which I hate, since running is a good alone time with your brain (because I don't have enough alone time with my brain.) The other day i came home, and annoying iwes (kids) were in my yard, and i wanted to do my stretches. They thought it was hilarious - particularly the jumping jacks!

My neighbor came over to teach me how to make nsima. That's the thick cornmeal porridge that you use to pick up food. They eat it at least twice a day here, and don't think a meal is complete without it. They are all mystified at the fact that I don't eat it very often. So I showed her how I make cabbage (by dumping it in a wok with curry powder and pepper) and she said "ah, but us, we like too much salt."

I've read a lot more books: Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker, The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon, You Suck: A Love Story by Christopher Moore

Friday, May 23, 2008

my brain is melting

ok, you know that line in mean girls where lindsey lohan says about the plastics "if Northshore were US weekly, they would always be on the cover."? well, if sinda were US weekly, I would always be on the cover (or my "neighbor" lashaya). I am the Britney Spears of Sinda. Sometimes I thank heavens that no one here can afford a camera otherwise they would constantly take pictures of me! The headmaster of the school has a camera - I had to pose with his children during a long jump competition. In the "Stars - they're just like us!" column there would be phrases like "They Eat Groundnuts!" (groundnuts are peanuts, the "they" is americans) "They've heard of okra!" "Their bikes get flat tires!" There would be a feature article incorrectly analyzing my reading material with a long lens blurry photograph as evidence. They would see a blue hardcover book and decide it was a bible, then would be a side panel that gave advice on which church would be best for me. (the blue book was actual Anthony Bourdain's "A Cook's Tour" it was torture to read) The cover story would read "Kelly sick with Malaria! - Why is the health volunteer so unhealthy?" I don't actually have malaria. I have a cold, and infected feet, and some tummy issues. In short, I never want to be famous. I hate that everyone knows everything about me, that I have to say hello and be friendly to everyone - the minute I ignore a child's shout of "Bwanji!" (and here I should mention that they are usually hidden 25 yds from the path behind a tree so i can't even see them), the whole community will think i'm a bitch. I get special treatment everywhere I go. I always have to sit with the men, which sucks because they usually want to know why I'm not marrying a black man (= african man) and/or whether I'll take them to america. People laugh at everything I say, no matter what language I use - as I walk away I can hear the imitations. they give me food all the time - food i don't want, can't refuse, and that they need. Everyone wants to sell me stuff. The other day I bought 2 buns (rolls) from the tuck shop (dark, "convenience" store with overpriced lotion and matches behind the counter) and all the kids who follow me were snickering "only 2! last time she bought 3!" Seriously, I know how Paris Hilton feels.

In other news I've been very up and down since I arrived at site. At first I thought "wow! these people are awesome, totally motivated, on the ball, excited, friendly. It's beautiful, warm, what's not to like?" Although I should mention that my first night I was so intimidated I just sat on my floor eating yogurt. It was rough. But then I jumped right in. I had meetings (truly awful affairs where I can only understand when they are talking about money because they use english numbers, and then I'm expected to say something magical and smart, but end up saying "my name is kerry and i come from america"), I cooked, I "organized" my house (I have no furniture), I met people, I started to figure things out. Now I just feel lonely and unhappy. I don't leave my house very often. I cook fabulous things and I have no one to share them with. Everytime I go to a new place I have to endure hours of people staring and laughing at me. It's rough - and i'm glad to be in chipata for a few days.

I've seen Nyau dancing. It's a cultural thing the Chewas do for entertainment all the time. Nyau's are secret dancers that wear scary masks and loincloths and carry big sticks so they can threaten to beat the children. i see them in the day recruiting women to sing and scaring kids and then when they dance the kids are magically less afraid, despite the fact that the Nyau's "handlers" keep trying to keep the kids back. I learned Chitumwali, the erotic dance that only women who are of age know. I sat in a small hut with about 25 topless women of varying ages, their breastfeeding infants, and drums. They were impressed with my hip isolation skills (thank you, bellydance). It was an interesting day. i have a chewa name: Chisomo Phiri. Chisomo means Grace so they usually call me that. Phiri is practically everybody's last name. The traditional birth attendents gave me that name since Kelly Buckmen is very difficult for them to say. I can carry 20L of water on my head.

Horrifying Story: My 7th night I woke up COVERED in ants at 2am. My bed was a mattress on top of a reed mat - and my house is made of mud. It was awful. I sprayed doom all over - then nearly died of fume inhalation. The next day my neighbor mr. Phiri (who has at least 9 kids, unknown # of wives, a motorcycle and lives and works in clinic houses, but I don't think he's employed by the government, he's just "in charge") stole me a metal bedframe from his eldest son. At first I felt bad, but then I thought "fuck it" that kid lives in a concrete house with a tin roof, is a boy and is used to it!

He's a list of awesome things I've cooked on my coal brazier: butternut squash stew and couscous, sweet and sour fried rice, indian frybread with spicy beans, corn tortillas with beans cabbage, thai stir fry with green beans, curry mac and cheese, fritters, fried bananas and nutella, butter curry lentils with cabbage, and the classic fried egg.

For entertainment I read. I've read 2 national enquirers, 3 us weeklys, 2 stars, cosmo, The Other Boleyn Girl, Opening the Buddhist Heart, Anybody Out There by Marian Keyes, One Hundred Years of Solitude, 4 Blondes by candace bushnell, A Cook's Tour, and Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot. I also attempt drawing and i'm not too shabby at watercolor. I do all this in my yard behind the relative privacy of my grass fence on my reed mat. Everyday at 5 i listen to Border Crossings on Voice of America and then the BBC, then i go to sleep.

My Address:
Kerry Beckman
Private bag 4
Sinda, Zambia

send letters! i have plenty of time to write back to you!

also i miss everyone immensely.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

I'm about to move!!

So I'm moving to my village on Tuesday. I'll be arriving in a landcruiser full of stuff, and then i will look around, be in shock, set up my mosquito net and try to cook some dinner. and also drink some wine. haha, but seriously it's going to be extremely overwhelming. I've heard that my community is really excited to see me. My village is in the most beautiful district. It's called Sinda. It's not on most maps of Zambia because it didn't use to be a district! But it's between Katete and Petauke in Eastern Province if you are curious. There are tons of fabulous rock formations all over and sunflower fields, rolling hills, lilypad ponds and flowers. It's awesome. I live next to my clinic. I'm not sure where my phone reception is but I'll find it eventually! I have a 2 room hut, a cooking mpala (round covered outdoor space for cooking and entertaining guests), a pit latrine, and a bathing shelter made of grass. It's also really close to the basic school, a boarding school and an orphanage so I'll have lots of groups of kids I can try to work with! There are also a lot of football fields nearby so hopefully I can play with people.

I'm pretty nervous about getting moved in. This time is called community entry and I will have to spend 3 months in my village getting to know people, learning the ropes of the area, figuring out who wants to work with me, developing a schedule, and just learning how to live in general! It's gonna be really intense, but I can do it. I'll appreciate emails - i can check them on my phone! - and when I get my new address in Sinda I'll let you all know because I have tons of time to write letters.

For those of you who are curious my job entails doing health education with community organizations and at the clinic, working with and training neighborhood health committees, teaching people about the decentralized health care system here, and also being a link between the community and the district offices. It's mostly pretty vague for now, but once I have specific projects going I'll talk more about it.

My cooking skills are definitely improving. I've also found that it is a lot easier to "get low" when dancing since i've spent so much quality time squatting in a pit latrine! Right now I'm just hanging out in the PC house in Chipata, eating fantastic group meals, sleeping in a bed, showering when the water is on, watching movies when the electricity is on, shopping. I'll be back in Chipata in 3 weeks or so to do work visa stuff, so hopefully then I'll be able to tell you tons of stories about my first 3 weeks alone in the village!